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Alumna Travels the World to Find the Right Fit, Then Discovers It One Summer at TFAS

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Clara Jace (IEIA 16) is quickly becoming a young alumna to watch, recently winning a full scholarship to George Mason University to pursue a Ph.D. in economics. She is turning her passion for economics and international affairs into a dream career, aiming to become an economics researcher and professor like her role model and TFAS professor, Dr. Anne Bradley.

Jace grew up between the United States, New Zealand, Malaysia and Australia, as her family moved around following her father’s career, so it is perhaps no surprise she has a passionate interest in travel and international affairs. While in college at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Jace studied abroad in the Dominican Republic, taking part in a special program offered by her school that included a homestay in a small farming village.

She took online business and economics classes, helped build an aqueduct, taught English in a Haitian boarding school, toured the border markets in the Dajabón Province of the Dominican Republic and experienced the highs and lows of daily life in rural Dominican Republic. It was not your typical study abroad experience, she said.

I learned the importance economics has in human flourishing and the kind of opportunities that we take for granted [in the U.S.]”

– Clara Jace (IEIA 16)

From these experiences, she drew two lessons. First, she realized that people are the same everywhere, despite differences in their economic and geographic situations. While living in a campo, or farming community, she stayed with a family much like her own, with younger siblings similar to her own – she even had a host grandmother, Maria, who reminded her strongly of her own grandmother, Mary, back home in the States.

Jace teaches an English lesson to children from Haiti during her study-abroad program in the Dominican Republic.
Jace teaches a lesson to children from Haiti during her study-abroad program in the Dominican Republic.

Second, she witnessed the impact aid institutions can have on developing nations, for better and for worse. Jace is a firm believer in the dignity of work and saw right before her eyes how, at its best, institutional aid can save lives and bring hope, but, when poorly managed, can actually decrease opportunity. She saw the state of the job market and the barriers to entry for starting businesses – with the markets on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti as her real-world classroom. She witnessed the shortfalls of school systems and realized how education is intertwined with the ability to create work in society.

“I learned the importance economics has in human flourishing and the kind of opportunities that we take for granted [in the U.S.],” she said.

With these experiences in mind, and still wondering what to do in her own future, Jace applied to and attended the Institute for Economics and International Affairs (IEIA) at TFAS. There, all the pieces suddenly fell into place. As she sat in her first International Economic Policy class at TFAS, Jace had an ah-ha moment.

“That first class, Dr. Bradley talked about human dignity and how economics is important to promote it, especially internationally, and how everything is interconnected.” In that very class, Jace remembers turning to the young woman next to her ­– a stranger who would quickly become one of her best friends – and exclaiming, “She’s awesome!” The woman next to her agreed.

“We spent the rest of the summer trying to buddy up with Dr. Bradley and hang out with her!”  Jace said.

I just knew this is I wanted to be doing, to be like Dr. Anne Bradley and be talking about these larger issues. The conversations I really cared about were the ones I encountered during my summer in D.C.”

Dr. Bradley is the vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. Each summer and semester, Bradley employs a unique teaching method that strives to “meet students where they are” – providing our young leaders with an economic toolkit to understand how economics relates to important policy questions that impact their everyday lives and the lives of those around them.

Jace said Dr. Bradley taught her to appreciate the complexity of international aid. She said, “We have a job in developing countries, to be aware of the situation and make sure we’re not hurting, because well-intentioned policies don’t always turn out well.”

Dr. Bradley’s class, and the crossover between classes, Jace’s internship and the conversations and debates she enjoyed with her new TFAS friends, also taught her something else.

Jace and her TFAS classmates visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Jace, second from the right, and her TFAS classmates visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

“I just knew this is I wanted to be doing,” Jace said, “to be like Dr. Anne Bradley and be talking about these larger issues. The conversations I really cared about were the ones I encountered during my summer in D.C.” Before her TFAS summer, Jace was considering pursuing a career in the foreign service or in the business world, but her TFAS experience cemented her desire to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually teach economics.

“I would love to teach; I’ve always been drawn to teaching.” In addition to her experience teaching English to Haitian children in the Dominican Republic, she is currently using her language skills to teach confirmation classes in a Nebraska parish that serves the Spanish-speaking community.

Jace also recently took advantage of a continuing education opportunity TFAS offers, the Curriculum of Liberty Seminars program – a Liberty Fund, Inc. co-sponsored program that brings young alumni together for a three-day, intensive seminar focusing on a topic related to liberty. She chose Liberty and Equality, which took place Feb. 17–19 in Arlington, Virginia. Jace and 13 other young alumni gathered for discussions led by TFAS professors Dr. Bradley J. Birzer of Hillsdale College and Dr. Richard Boyd of Georgetown University. To learn more about this continuing education opportunities for alumni, please visit the TFAS Curriculum of Liberty Seminars page.

Since then, Jace has pursued even more opportunities to increase knowledge and make an impact. She recently won second place in The Association for Private Enterprise Education’s contest for undergraduates, with a poster project entitled, “Analyzing the Demand for Charter Schools,” based on her research into the school choice issue.

Don’t get frustrated when you don’t completely fit in somewhere; just follow where the good people go.”

When asked about what advice she would offer to future TFAS students, Jace said, “Getting outside of your comfort zone is where the real adventure in life is, so don’t be afraid to do that.”

With a laugh, she added, “Also know that people will be watching you, so always conduct yourself with elegance and grace, but a little wildness never hurt!”

Another piece of Jace’s advice for young people like her, coming out of college and transitioning to the next phase, is to focus on finding a career field and work environment that are the best fit. In her own life, she has had to step off of many paths in order to step onto others.

“I jumped around from wealth advising to marketing; I did it all and it never felt completely right,” she said. “But then finally, I was in a think-tank environment in D.C. and in a classroom and I thought, ‘This is the fit!’” That ‘fit’ happened to be The Hudson Institute, where she interned during her semester in D.C. with TFAS.

“You’re only going to know it when you see it,” she continued. “Don’t get frustrated when you don’t completely fit in somewhere; just follow where the good people go.”

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